Category Music

Brilliant Songs #47: Jacob Collier’s “Audience Choir”

Let me start with what might be an audacious claim that could make for a fun parlor or brewpub back-and-forth next time you feel inclined to jump-start a conversation or veer it away from the sordid unpleasantries that dominate our 24-hour media cycle today. To wit: what, in your opinion, is the highest of the art forms?

Much as I love and admire the arts in general and various artists in particular, I have my own unequivocal answer to that question. I think music is the highest art form—the most powerful, soaring and transformative ever devised.

Actually, “devised” strikes me as not quite the right word, given how music seems, at its most baseline level, to be pre-thought, pre-verbal, both springing from and speaking to some deep inchoate need and capacity of our bodymind to recognize, appreciate, organize and replicate sound, rhythm, and other musical elements into an organic whole for our pleasure, jo...

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Brilliant Songs #46: Rhiannon Giddens’ and Joey Ryan’s “At the Purchaser’s Option”

Every now and again an artist comes along who is seemingly hatched from a sky god who has incubated him or her for 500 years, carefully imbuing every last gene with wisdom, intelligence, beauty, enthusiasm, tenacity, curiosity, and a fundamental, overarching decency that makes their entire life a testimonial for the goodness of the human project.

At certain moments, we may experience these individuals as antidotes to whatever doubts and despair we harbor in the dark of our souls, little life rafts bobbing along in our psyche that we reach for through the storms of the world and our own thrashings of the night.

Rhiannon Giddens would likely crawl under a blanket of embarrassed protest if she heard herself described as one of those outsized, accomplished individuals, muttering something about just being a regular person struggling like so many millions of other people to raise a family, pay the bills and be ...

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Brilliant Songs #45: Josh Ritter’s “The Temptation of Adam”

I knew virtually nothing about Josh Ritter when I walked into the wonderfully named “Haw River Ballroom” earlier this month in the just-as-wonderfullly named city of Saxapahaw (2021 population: 1,671). I’d bought the tickets on a lark, because the blurb sounded interesting and I had a vague memory that Ritter is one of those artists with an intense following who had stayed under my radar over the decades for all the usual reasons (time, proximity, basic inattention) but who probably merited a listen.

It required maybe three or four guitar pickings and a few words out of his mouth on concert night for Mary and I to turn to each other with an unspoken, pursued-lip, “Whoa!”

And then it was off to the proverbial races for a two-hour concert set that ranks as one of a handful of “Best Concert Ever” nominees in my personal honor roll...

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To Imagine One World: Netflix’s “The Greatest Night in Pop”

A sense of poignancy runs all through the recent Netflix documentary, “The Greatest Night in Pop,” and its branches spread out in multiple directions.

One branch brings the simple passage of time into sharp relief. As we gaze upon a gallery of superstar musicians in their creative prime who assembled on one fabled night in Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago to sing one song—“We Are the World”— on behalf of African famine relief, we know that a good number of them are no longer bound to earth. (Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, Tina Turner, Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, two of the Pointer Sisters).

Another branch shows those still living who consented to interviews these years later. We see at least some of them as barely recognizable ghost images of their physical selves in 1985. (As are we, if we were around then.) (As I was…)

Not that they aren’t still vibrant, engaging and fu...

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Brilliant Songs #44: Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel”

One plink of a C note on the piano, followed quickly up the scale by an F and then A note to complete a lovely little triad one could teach a child in a moment or two. Then a repeat, after which the left hand descends to a note on the lower register, and, depending on the particular arrangement, a violin, cello, or other accompanist joins in to commence one of the most contemplative pieces of music ever offered up to human ears.

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” translates as “Mirror(s) in the Mirror,” suggesting an endless reflection of images, the triad of the initial notes forming a foundation that seems to stretch out and carry listeners along to infinity...

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